Worldwide there are approximately 3,000 merchant ports and the work of the Harbour Master can vary widely from country to country and from port to port even within the same country.
Evolution not revolution. Autonomous and remote-controlled ships are being trialled but seafarers, for now, remain indispensable to safe shipping. These were key messages apparent from a special session held on 3 December of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee, which is celebrating its 100th session. This was reported on 6 December by IMO which kindly provided illustrations.
Delegates were first treated to a song commemorating IMO’s 70th anniversary since the Convention establishing IMO was adopted in 1948) as well as the MSC 100 session.
Then a specially-commissioned IMO video reminded representatives of IMO Member States, IGOs, NGOs and invited guests of the wide spectrum of work the Committee has done over six decades to enhance safety and security at sea, including navigation, cargoes, ship construction, seafarer training, search and rescue and communications and more.
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim outlined the history of the Committee, since it first met in 1959, when it comprised just 14 Member States. Today the Committee consists of all IMO Member States. He reflected: ‘Thanks to the unwavering commitment to reduce the number of marine casualties and incidents, not least demonstrated by the efforts of this Committee throughout the years, and with the unique IMO spirit of cooperation that is perhaps particularly true for the work of this Committee, we have come a long way in ensuring the safe and secure operation of international shipping.’
He added: ‘As we look towards the future of the MSC, a number of key issues are on the table before us. They will require our combined continuous efforts to reach sound, balanced and timely decisions, in order to continue the long and impressive record of this Committee’s work over the past 100 sessions.’
Kevin Daffey, Director Ship Intelligence and Engineering & Technology, Commercial Marine, Rolls-Royce plc, introduced a vision of the future with videos showing the trial of a fully autonomous ferry on a voyage between Parainen and Nauvo, Finland. This ferry navigated in fully autonomous mode and under remote control operation. Plenty of ships will continue to have people on board, he said, but marine engineers are opening the design envelope to make these ships more effective and more efficient, it has been report.
Timo Koponen, Vice President, Processing Solutions, Wärtsilä Marine Business, showcased the remote control operation of an offshore vessel in August 2017. The OSV, sailing off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland, was controlled remotely from San Diego, 8,000 km away, using standard bandwidth. And more recently, in 2018, the Norwegian hybrid-powered car ferry Folgefonn underwent successful auto-docking/undocking/dock-to-dock tests. Automation, intelligent routeing, voyage optimization and just-in-time operation had the potential to provide significant fuel savings and contribute to improved environmental performance.
In Koponen’s words: ‘Are seafarers indispensable?’ This was the key question posed by Branko Berlan, Accredited Representative of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to IMO.
His message was that seafarers are still key to safe and secure ship operation. The accident/incident rate for international merchant ships is less than 5% of all ships per year, he pointed out. Seafarers are prepared for new technologies and automation, he added. ‘It is happening: it is not revolution, it will not come tomorrow or next week; it is evolution.’ Seafarers are ready to accept technologies, if they are proved to be safer than what we have now.
In the debate that followed, delegates raised questions about search and rescue operations which might involve autonomous or remotely controlled ships and how Collision Regulations would be complied with. Most believed that remote controlled or autonomous vessels would initially operate close to shore.
It is understood that the MSC is carrying out a regulatory scoping exercise to look at how the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) may be introduced in IMO instruments.
Closing the special session, former MSC chair Tom Allan reminded delegates of their responsibility as the people involved in: ‘…probably the most important safety committee in the world,’ when it comes to safety of life at sea. ‘Not only this session, but the next 100.’
The IMO has agreed to address maritime corruption by including this important issue in its work programme for the Facilitation Committee. The decision to include an anti-corruption agenda came at the latest meeting of the IMO’s Facilitation Committee (FAL 43 held 8-12 April) in response to a submission from Liberia, Marshall Islands, Norway, UK, US and Vanuatu. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) co-sponsored the submission along with a number of other non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping (illustrated) commented: ‘Corruption erodes trust in government and undermines the social contract. Corruption impedes investment, with consequent effects on growth and jobs. This is a global issue but we all need to work to eradicate corrupt practices. We are pleased that the IMO will be working to address this important issue and we will support the member states in stamping out this scourge.’
A mass rescue operation – indeed, any incident beyond everyday capability – is a challenge for any State and any SAR organisation; but this is particularly so for small States and organisations, whose planning and response capabilities are naturally limited. A cruise ship accident in the Caribbean, for example, where many such ships trade, is a very rare event, but still a possible one. Rarity is part of the problem.
Thus the scene is set by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF see: www.international-maritime-rescue.org ).
This then begs a question
How do you prepare for such huge, once-in-a-career challenges?
In the UK IMRF Member the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), an executive agency of the UK Government, takes this question very seriously.